Kwanzaa 101

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Official Kwanzaa Website for Horizons

By Campbell Turner Correspondent

Kwanzaa is a celebration of African-American culture held from December 26th to January 1st of the new year. Kwanzaa is a fairly recent holiday, having been created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana Studies at California State University, in 1966 as a way to bring blacks together after the Watts Riot.

            Kwanzaa’s name comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” or first fruits. Kwanzaa is based on the principles of Kawaida which teaches that actions should be based in tradition. Karenga once said that “tradition is our grounding, our cultural anchor and therefore, our starting point. It is also the cultural authority for any claims to cultural authenticity for anything we do and think as an African people.”

            According to the Official Kwanzaa Website, there are a few things you must do for preparations. To prepare for Kwanzaa, there are three guidelines that must be followed: Firstly, participants must come with a high level of respect for Kwanzaa. Then, participants must not mix Kwanzaa with any other non-African culture. Finally, participants must choose only the best and most beautiful celebratory symbols to reaffirm that every symbol represents African culture and commitment to the holiday.

To celebrate, a place for the symbols of Kwanzaa must be chosen. The symbols of Kwanzaa are: Mazao (The Crops) which symbolize the fruits of productive labor, Mkeka (The Mat) which symbolizes the foundation of tradition and history to be built upon. Kinara (The Candleholder) symbolic of the continental African people, Muhindi (The Corn) symbolic of the children and the future they represent, Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup) symbolic of the practice of unity, Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles) symbolic of Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles), and Zawadi (The Gifts) symbolic of the love and labor of the parents as well as commitments made and kept by the children.

Each day of Kwanzaa reinforces a different principle of Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles): Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

To conclude, Karenga puts it best: “[Kwanzaa] is a cultural project in the full sense of the word…restructuring thought and practice on every level. Moreover, it is a project which requires recovering lost models and memory, suppressed principles and practices of African culture, and putting these in the service of African people in their struggle to free themselves and realize their highest aspirations.”

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